President Donald Trump released his proposed 2018 federal budget Thursday, and among the many government agencies the budget would eliminate is the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which helps fund legal representation for victims of domestic violence.
The LSC was created by Congress in 1974 to fund civil legal aid programs and offices providing lawyers to low-income Americans in civil disputes. The largest group of cases LSC-funded attorneys work are family law cases, which often include victims of domestic violence seeking to extricate themselves from dangerous situations, secure protective orders and gain custody of children.
According to the LSC's 2015 annual report, the most recent available, LSC funding helped close 755,774 legal cases in 2015, and 116,704 of those involved domestic violence. More than 520,000 of the clients the LSC helped in 2015 were women, the report said.
Having an attorney makes it much more likely that domestic violence victims are able to secure a protective order. According to one 2003 study, victims represented by an attorney were able to secure a protective order 83 percent of the time while victims without representation were able to get a protective order in just 32 percent of cases.
Ending the LSC would reduce a federal spending by less than one percent. For fiscal year 2017, the LSC requested a budget of $502 million from Congress after receiving $385 million in funding in 2016. According to the LSC, 93 percent of that funding is distributed in grants to non-profits across the country delivering civil legal aid.
There is already a large, unmet need for civil legal representation for poor Americans. There is less than one civil legal aid attorney to help every 10,000 Americans living in poverty, according to a 2016 report by the National Center for Access to Justice.
In New York, the City Council recently guaranteed free legal representation to tenants in housing court, and put aside $150 million dollars to fund the initiative, in an effort to fight homelessness. Housing cases made up 28.3 percent of all closed LSC cases in 2015.
Last month, amid reports the Trump administration was considering defunding the LSC, American Bar Association President Linda Klein issued a statement in support of the group.
"Our nation's core values are reflected in the LSC's work in securing housing for veterans, freeing seniors from scams, serving rural areas when others won’t, protecting battered women, helping disaster survivors back to their feet, and many others," Klein said. "The LSC embodies these principles by securing the rights of the least fortunate among us."